The tradition of branding citizens for criticizing the elite forces, such as the Indian Army, has become the norm of the day. Anyone daring to raise an opinion against the armed forces would be subjected to the fury of the self-proclaimed holders of nationalism. But, I dare to make an attempt to raise a critical issue pertaining to the most reputed armed forces in the world. The constant politicization of the armed forces has brought us to a place where any reasonable loophole is overshadowed under the context of the self-built notion of “to be a true Indian, one must respect the Indian Army”. It is sometimes felt that a particular group of the country has successfully managed to evolve the litmus test of patriotism/nationalism. And, that litmus test is dependent upon the respect for the army. Sooner it would be viral on the social media as #Respectarmyorantinational.
But, let us try to take ourselves ahead of this petty nationalism and exercise the power of free speech which has given us fairly equal opportunity to highlight the shortcomings of the most elite institution of the country. I believe that Army, just like any governmental institution, is subject to public criticism, and by stating that I am not undermining the sanctity and sacrifice of the jawans as there is a growing fear of falling prey to wrong interpretations. We have all respected and valued the sacrifices made by our jawans, but how many of us are aware of the discrimination that they are subjected to by their own superiors. The indication is to the videos surfaced on the social media recently about the soldiers who are made to do domestic work or menial work by the superiors under whom they are appointed as sahayaks. The suicide of a jawan caught the attention of the nation ignorant of the discriminatory system prevalent inside the institution. The people were caught with surprise who earlier blindfolded the window of reason by discarding any scope of genuine criticism.
Understanding the Sahayak System
The Sahayak system or the buddy system can be understood as the man is always seen with the officers. The personnel is not a civilian servant, but a trained combatant who is trained to fight in the battle. The appointment of a sahayak is with the significance of assisting the officers as an entrusted friend to carry out other preparations while the officer is busy in other functioning. Taking a small example, a sahayak is entrusted with the duty to take care of the weapons of the officer or such other related activity. The Sahayak system is not an Indian concept, but it traces its roots back to the colonial era. The system actually emerged from the British Raj, and since then it is being carried out in the Indian Armed Forces. The Indian Air Force and Indian Navy do not have such a system, and it is only prevalent in the Indian Army. With the passing of time, the sahayak system has been questioned regarding its credibility. It is often seen to be a system having colonial roots not having any relevance in the independent India. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence also presented its opposition to the sahayak system in strong words. But, the question arises, despite the criticism that why has it suddenly become the center of all attention in recent times in the environment where calling anything against the armed forces is considered to be anti-national?
Abuse of Power
The answer to this lies in the recent videos posted by the jawans of the armed forces stating their misery which also led to the suicide of one of the jawans. The jawan clearly indicated the violation of their personal dignity by their engagement with the menial works in the household of the officer. It is true that no jawan is under any compulsion to do any of the household or personal works of the officer such as washing of the cars or taking out their dogs for a walk. But, the lack of redressal mechanism system and psychological fear of the ranks often makes them do things that are not a part of their job portfolio. After taking an adequate understanding of the system, I have few things in my mind. If we say that any pro-separatist statement or any statement demeaning the soldiers of the army can be the root cause for demoralizing jawans then, does a system of ‘silent slavery’ not decrease their morals or does it not have a huge psychological impact upon the spirit and morale of the soldiers. A Sahayak to my understanding means a buddy or a helper but not a servant. But, once a sahayak is appointed then he is treated as the servant of the officer undertaking menial works. Such a strong statement is based upon the interpretation of the videos surfaced on the social media. The Right to Personal Liberty, the famous fundamental right upholding human dignity has failed in its outreach to the sahayaks. The duties undertaken by them can be understood to be in complete violation of their personal dignity and self-esteem.
Safeguarding the rights of Sahayaks
The practice of human-to-human exploitation is not a new phenomenon, rather it has been in practice since the colonial period. But, thanks to the technological advancement, the social media is used as a strong weapon to bring the miseries of the soldiers into the public domain. This brings me to another question that why a need was felt by a jawan to come in public, risking his own career and making himself vulnerable to several inquiries? To my understanding, the core reason for such an outreach can only be the lack of grievance redressal mechanism. Or what else it could be? It may also be due to the laid back attitude of the officers to keep it in existence. The videos in a way highlighted the hidden problems and brought them into public but the attitude adopted by the senior members of the armed forces lacks the intention to provide a concrete solution to this menace. The possibility of finding other ways for its replacement or the appointing of civilians as sahayaks does not entirely fulfill the purpose. If on many junctures a voice has been raised for its abolition and if this government is so committed to the cause of the army jawans, then a strong guideline or decision must soon be taken into effect.
The armed force is not all about fighting the enemy, but it is also an institution which throughout the period has managed to retain the faith of the people. And to maintain the same faith, it is the need of the hour to start with reformation from within. This would enable them to win the trust of their critiques and simultaneously retain the self-esteem and dignity of their soldiers which would work as a psychological booster to the jawans and instill a sense of belongingness which would make them feel proud to be soldiers of the Indian Army rather than mere servants of the Indian Officers.
“A high-spirited and committed soldier is thousand times more reliable than the one with low morale and lack of self-esteem”